AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas jury ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Friday to pay the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting $45.2 million in punitive damages for spreading the lie that they helped stage the massacre.
The jury announced its decision a day after awarding the parents more than $4 million in compensatory damages and after testimony Friday that Jones and Free Speech Systems, the parent company of his misinformation-peddling media outlet, Infowars, were worth $135 million to $270 million.
Jones was found liable last year for defaming the victims’ families while spreading bogus theories that the shooting had been part of a government plot to confiscate Americans’ firearms and that the victims’ families had been complicit in the scheme.
This week’s trial was the first of three to determine how much Jones owes the families for the suffering he has caused. Jurors deliberated for about four hours before reaching Friday’s verdict.
Compensatory damages are based on proven harm, loss or injury, and are often calculated based on the fair market value of damaged property, lost wages and expenses, according to Cornell Law School. Punitive damages are intended to punish especially harmful behavior and tend to be granted at the court’s discretion, and are sometimes many multiples of a compensatory award.
The case decided this week was brought by Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, died in the attack in Newtown, Connecticut. It was the first to arise from several lawsuits filed by victims’ parents in 2018.
“This is an important day for truth, for justice, and I couldn’t be happier,” Lewis said in the courtroom after the verdict.
Before the jurors began deliberating about the punitive damages, Wesley Todd Ball, a lawyer for the family, told the jury that it had “the ability to send a message for everyone in this country and perhaps this world to hear.”
“We ask that you send a very, very simple message, and that is: Stop Alex Jones,” he said. “Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies. Please.”
Ball had asked the jury for punitive damages of about $146 million, in addition to the $4 million in compensatory damages awarded Thursday.
How much Jones will actually have to pay in punitive damages is certain to be the subject of further litigation. Texas law caps punitive damages at two times the compensatory damages plus $750,000.
But Mark Bankston, a lawyer for Heslin and Lewis, told reporters Thursday that the issue is likely to end up before the Texas Supreme Court, and legal experts said there were disagreements about the constitutionality of the cap.
Jones’ lawyer, F. Andino Reynal, said the punitive award would ultimately be reduced to $1.5 million.
Jones believes “the First Amendment is under siege, and he looks forward to continuing the fight,” Reynal said after the verdict.